The lead attorney for Terri Schiavo's parents unexpectedly withdrew from the case this week, just before today's court hearing that may prove to be one of the last hopes to keep their daughter alive.
A judge signed the order Tuesday allowing Pat Anderson, the much-quoted public persona of the parents' legal battle, to withdraw after more than three years representing Bob and Mary Schindler.
Anderson is being replaced by Seminole lawyer David Gibbs III, who has previously worked on the case with Anderson and sits on the board of directors for the Christian Law Association. It represents groups or individuals fighting for religious rights.
Gibbs, who did not return calls for comment Wednesday, appeared on Larry King Live on Monday night with the Schindlers.
"I am reclaiming my life," Anderson said Wednesday. "It's just time to leave. I've done my part shoving that rock up the hill. Maybe I'll be able to finally sleep through the night without waking up at 3 a.m. remembering some detail."
She said the change had nothing to do with any split with the Schindlers or change in legal tactics.
Anderson, who formerly represented the St. Petersburg Times, is well-known in the Pinellas legal community as a tenacious advocate with a quick mind and sharp tongue, who has often waged an acrimonious battle with attorneys for Michael Schiavo, Terri Schiavo's husband.
After a hearing earlier this year, Anderson told one of Schiavo's attorneys, "You're going to burn in hell, lady."
Anderson said Gibbs is a veteran lawyer with experience dealing with First Amendment issues.
"Bear in mind that he is a religious liberties lawyer," she said.
At today's hearing before Circuit Judge George Greer, Gibbs is expected to argue that a religious declaration by the pope earlier this year makes clear that Schiavo would not want to die by having her feeding tube withdrawn.
In March, the pope said people in vegetative states have the right to health care and nutrition. As a devout Catholic, Anderson had argued, Mrs. Schiavo would not want anything done that runs counter to church doctrine.
A motion previously filed by Anderson sought a new trial to determine what Schiavo's wishes would be given the pope's words.
"As a practicing Catholic at the time of her collapse . . . Terri does not want to commit a sin of the gravest proportions by forgoing treatment to effect her own death in defiance of her religious faith's express and recent instruction to the contrary," the motion says.
The attorney for Schiavo's husband, who wants to remove life support because he says Schiavo would not want to live by artificial means, has said the pope's words are not an official religious pronouncement banning the removal of feeding tubes.
Last week, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the law allowing Gov. Jeb Bush to order the reinsertion of Schiavo's feeding tube after it was removed last October. Bush's lawyers have not yet decided to appeal or seek a rehearing.
They have until Sunday to ask for a rehearing.